Welcome, new faculty member

Leah Dyjak joins Wheaton as assistant professor of photography

Wheaton welcomed new tenure-track faculty member Leah Dyjak, assistant professor of photography, this semester. She joins four other new faculty members who began in the fall semester. We asked her a few questions.

My educational background: Bachelor of fine arts (photography), Massachusetts College of Art and Design; master of fine arts (studio art) University of Texas at Austin

My previous job (title, location): “Most recently I was an assistant professor of video and photography at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South, Carolina.”

Why I became an educator: “When I was young, I went to a small Polish Catholic school in Springfield, Mass. Back then the Felician Sisters (nuns) were still teaching classes. Although they could be quite intimidating at times, I was enchanted by them. These women had committed their lives to spirituality, service work and living in community. My great uncle, Father Luke, was a missionary priest overseas so the idea to be of use and in service was instilled in me at a very young age. Being an educator is a way for me to pursue my creative interests and make a positive contribution to the world around me.”

What led me to my field: “When I was around 17, I had a dream about what to do with my life. In that dream I realized I wanted to be a photographer. Before work that day (I was working as a lifeguard), I went to the mall and bought a camera. I have been making pictures since then. Photography was an accessible medium, as I did not need a studio. Being a photographer allows me to travel and meet people outside of my day-to-day orbit.”

My current research focus: “My current creative research is focused on charting matter in flux and material failures. The work often looks at the intersection of the built environment and the natural world, such as sea walls, levees and other spaces we construct in an attempt to control the weather. Water, extreme weather and the alchemical transformation of materials is a recurring theme in my work. Through my work, I am interested in accessing the sublime and our collective experience of climate change.”

Why I chose Wheaton: “Wheaton’s commitment to community, service learning and campus-wide collaboration is very appealing. There is a lot of support for students and faculty to pursue interests. I have found that everyone has a very positive, can-do attitude. It is inspiring to be around so many people looking for solutions and committed to making the world a better place. I am thrilled to be a part of such a close-knit community.”

Most important lesson I learned in college: “You will never get the time back, so make use of every moment, take every opportunity. I learned to trust that people, faculty and peers, sincerely wanted to help me succeed and support my work. I learned that art-making was a way for me to study diverse subject matter and pursue many interests.”

What I want every student to learn: “To trust your intuition and believe in yourself. You are your own best teacher. Each of you have unique and important ideas to contribute to your immediate and extended community. Use your voice. Listen to each other. It is essential to learn to embrace differing perspectives and be open to learning new things from others, even if you might not agree. The ability to listen and practice empathy is imperative to personal growth and changing the world. College is the perfect place to develop and practice these skills in a supportive environment.”

What few people know about me: “I have spent a lot of time driving across country and have the American interstate system practically memorized. I love maps and the American West. Every time I cross the state line I get out of my truck and do a handstand.”